Yu Hong leaves her home village and starts university in Beijing, where she develops a consuming and compulsive relationship with another student. The student riots from 1989 then ensue and take a toll on their lives.
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Country girl Yu Hong leaves her village, her family and her lover to study in Beijing. At university, she discovers an intense world of sexual freedom and forbidden pleasure. Enraptured, compulsive, she falls madly in love with fellow student Zhou Wei. Driven by obsessive passions they can neither understand nor control, their relationship becomes one of dangerous games - betrayals, recriminations, provocations - as all around them, their fellow students begin to demonstrate, demanding democracy and freedom. Protests collapse, and Yu and Zhou lose each other amidst the social chaos and panicked crowds. Zhou Wei is sent to a summer military camp, and on his release moves to Berlin, fleeing both his country and memories of Yu. She finds a job, a lover, but can not forget Zhou. In Germany, social unrest is mounting: calls for freedom, demonstrations for democracy. A familiar story for Zhou. Weary, still haunted by Yu, he returns to China as the Berlin Wall crashes down. He finds her at ... Written by
In September of 2006, director Lou Ye was barred from making movies for five years because the film incorporated footage of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and wasn't screened for Chinese officials. The Chinese government also demanded that all copies of the film be confiscated. See more »
There were no nightclubs or bars in 1980's Beijing such as the ones portrayed in Summer Palace. Despite the presence of a few underground bars in Beijing at that time, it is highly improbably that any university students would patron such establishments. Moreover, those bars did not play American pop music, did not allow dancing, did not stock western liquor, and certainly did not admit foreigners. Any clubs or bars like the ones shown in Summer Palace did not begin appearing in Beijing until the late 1990s and did not gain popularity amongst middle-class college students until after the new millennium. See more »
In the late 1980's, an inexperienced young woman named Yu Hong leaves her hometown and boyfriend in the provinces to attend Beijing University. Almost immediately, she falls into a passionate love/hate relationship with a fellow student at the school. This torrid affair plays out partly against the backdrop of the student protests and subsequent massacre that occurred in Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989. (The movie also takes place briefly in Germany, the other part of the world where significant social change was occurring in 1989).
"Summer Palace" plays almost like the autopsy of a romantic obsession, attempting to get at the root of why we love in the way that we do. A novice at true love, Yu Hong understands neither her undying passion for Zhou Wei nor her seemingly incessant need to keep sabotaging their relationship. The closest she can come to grasping this paradox is when she says to Zhou Wei: "I want to break up because I can't leave you." Love is seen almost as a form of mental illness in this film - as a debilitating, all-consuming condition that one is powerless to control or "cure" but which, if left unchecked, can become the single dominant force in a person's life (we rarely see Yu Hong studying, let alone going to class). One can attempt to fill the void with other loves, but the heart always comes back to the same place.
"Summer Palace" is long and occasionally repetitious and the political aspects aren't as effectively integrated into the story as they perhaps might have been, but the movie is beautifully acted by Lei Hao and Xiaodong Guo, among others, and features incisive and sensitive direction by Ye Lou (who, along with Feng Mei and Ma Yingli, co-authored the screenplay). This is a largely impressionistic film, concentrating more on mood, imagery and emotions than on narrative. The last hour of the film - so filled with longing and regret as the characters age and attempt to come to terms with the special thing they have lost - is particularly lyrical and heartbreaking and will haunt you long after the movie is over.
All told, "Summer Palace" is an intelligent and moving rumination on that mysterious force we call love.
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